Women and Justice: Keywords

International Case Law

Seferovic v. Italy European Court of Human Rights (2011)

Custodial violence

The detention pending deportation of a woman who had recently given birth found to be unlawful and violated Article 5 § 1 (f) and Article 5 § 5 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights. In September 2000, the applicant, a woman from Bosnia and Herzegovina, applied to the Italian authorities for refugee status. The application was not forwarded to the competent commission because it contained formal defects. On September 26, 2003 the applicant gave birth to a child, who died a few days later at the hospital. Then, on November 11, 2003 the police served her with a deportation order and transferred her to a holding center pending such deportation that the applicant's placement and detention had been in breach of Italian immigration law no. 286 of 1998, which provided that her deportation should have been suspended until six months after she had given birth (March 26, 2004), regardless of the fact that the baby had died. In March 2006, the Rome Civil Court granted Ms Seferovic refugee status. In addition, by way of just satisfaction, the government was required to pay the applicant 7,500 euros (EUR) for non-pecuniary damage for her unlawful detention as there was no redress available under Italian law.



Interights (on behalf of Husaini and Others) v. Nigeria African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (2005)

Custodial violence, Gender discrimination, Gender-based violence in general, Harmful traditional practices

Interights, an international human rights organization, filed a complaint before the Commission on behalf of Ms. Safiya Hussaini and others, arguing that Nigeria's Islamic Sharia courts had violated their rights to a fair trial and due process. Safiya Hussaini, a nursing mother, was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Ms. Hussaini was tried under Sharia law, according to which adultery is punishable by death. The petitioners also included Amina Lawal, a woman sentenced to similar punishment for adultery, and Bariya Magazu, an unmarried woman who received 100 lashes as punishment for zina (voluntary premarital sexual intercourse). In response to the complaint, the Chairman of the African Commission sent an urgent appeal to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, urging him to suspend further implementation of the Sharia penal statutes and convictions under those laws pending the outcome of the complaints before the Commission. In response to the Chairman's urgent appeal, the Secretary General of the African Union formally brought the matter to President Obasanjo. The President's Chief of Staff wrote to the Chairman of the African Commission that while the federal government could not suspend the operation of Sharia law, the administration would ensure that the "right to life and human dignity" of Ms. Hussaini and the others would be adequately protected. Before the court ruled on admissibility of the complaint, the complainant moved for withdrawal of the complaint, and it was withdrawn from the Commission.



Doebbler v. Sudan African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (2003)

Custodial violence, Gender discrimination, Gender-based violence in general

Eight female students of the Nubia Association of Ahilia University were arrested for engaging in immoral activities that violated the public order, in contravention of Sudan's Criminal Code, which incorporates Islamic Sharia law. The immoral activities the women committed consisted of "girls kissing, wearing trousers, dancing with men, crossing legs with men, sitting with boys, and sitting and talking with boys." The women were punished with fines and between 25 and 40 lashes. The lashing took place in public by use of a wire and plastic whip. The wire and plastic whip were unclean, the lashing was not under the supervision of a doctor, and the women were bareback in public while they were lashed. The complaint asserted that the punishment violated Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which guarantees the right of individuals to human dignity and prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment. The Commission found that the lashing violated article 5 of the African Charter. It requested that Sudan abolish the punishment of lashing and compensate the women for their injuries.



J. v. Peru, Report No. 76/11, Case 11,769A Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2011)

Custodial violence

In April 1992, the Petitioner, Mónica Feria Tinta, was arrested during a raid by DINCOTE, the counter-terrorism branch of the Peruvian police. The police believed that Ms. Tinta was a member of the Sendero Luminoso, a communist militant group in Peru. During the raid, Ms. Tinta was blindfolded, beaten and raped by some of the police officers. When Ms. Tinta protested the sexual violence, the officers beat and kicked her. After the raid, the officers took Ms. Tinta to a DINCOTE facility, where she was detained for more than a year in cells infested with roaches and rats. While detained, DINCOTE officers deprived Ms. Tinta of access to her attorney, forced her to urinate in a can in the presence of two male officers, and doused her with cold water if she resisted their orders. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the “IACHR”) found that the Peru violated Ms. Tinta’s rights by failing to conduct a serious investigation of her claims, even though her claims “fit a pattern known to have existed at that time” and involved violence (¶ 207). According to the IACHR, Peru had a duty to investigate Ms. Tinta’s claims of rape, including ordering medical tests and examinations, to either corroborate or disprove Ms. Tinta’s claims. The IACHR concluded that Peru, inter alia, violated the rights recognized in articles 5(1), 5(2) and 11 of the American Convention on Human Rights (the “American Convention”), as well as Article 1 and 6 of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. Noting its well-established precedent that “rape committed by members of the security forces of a state against the civilian population constitutes, in any situation, a serious violation of the human rights protected by Articles 5 and 11 of the American Convention,” the IACHR established that rape is particularly reprehensible when it perpetrated by a state agent against a detainee, because of the victim’s vulnerability and the agent’s abuse of power (¶ 188). In addition, noting that various reports had shown a pattern of rape and sexual abuse against women by members of Peru’s security forces, the IACHR found that such sexual violence was part of a “broader context of discrimination against women” (¶ 65).



Domestic Case Law

Republic v Arawaia Court of Appeal of Kiribati (2013)

Sexual violence and rape

Mr. Arawaia plead guilty to indecent assault and defilement involving the repeated rape of the 12 year old grand daughter of his wife. When the girl told her grandmother, Mr. Arawaia’s wife, of the rapes, Mr. Arawaia apologized. Later Mar. Arawaia wanted the victim to sleep with him, and the victim’s grandmother told her to do so. The victim was again raped by Mr. Arawaia. The High Court, in sentencing Mr. Arawaia, considered Mr. Arawaia’s early plea, the seriousness of the case, and also Mr. Arawaia’s apology to the girl. Ms. Beiatau, arguing for the Republic, appealed on the grounds that the sentence was manifestly inadequate. Ms. Beiatau argued that due to the rising prevalence of sexual offences in Kiribati, sentencing guidelines were needed. She further contended that the High Court erred in considering Mr. Arawaia’s apology to the girl a mitigating factor. Relying on Kimaere v The Republic, a Kiribati Court of Appeal decision from 2005, and sentencing standards set in New Zealand and Australia, the Kiribati Court of Appeal found that a five year prison sentence was an appropriate starting point in defilement cases. The Court noted that where multiple offenses are considered, it is more important to proportion the entire length of the sentence to the entirety of the defendants conduct, rather than worrying about adding together the sentences for each offense. Determining that Mr. Arawaia’s conduct justified a prison sentence of seven to eight years, the Court then discounted his sentence, for his early plea, to an increased total of five years. The Court found Mr. Arawaia’s apology to have been incorrectly considered a mitigating factor. The Court also held that the starting point for the indecent assault charges would have been two and a half years before discounting for mitigating factors



M. v. The State, Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa (2013)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

A man in South Africa was convicted of raping his adopted daughter over the course of a sexually abusive relationship that lasted several years and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The judge overruled claims that the victim had given consent, holding that the victim’s lack of resistance did not qualify as active consent. Furthermore, the judge held that that the perpetrator had knowingly employed sexual grooming techniques to leverage the victim into sexual acts. In refuting the perpetrator’s claims that he believed the victim to be consenting, the judge in this case took an important step in defending victim’s rights and acknowledging the complicated power dynamics that often underlie sexual crimes. This case opens the path for victims of similarly complex patterns of sexual abuse to come forward and claim their rights, providing vital recourse for the many victims of sexual crimes in South Africa.